Session 4: Why do I care?
In this session, we will look at some of the motives that inspire our caring.
Listen to ‘Love me tender’ (use YouTube or download here).
A prayer to say together:
thank you for caring for us tenderly and completely,
for loving us now and that you always will.
Please give us that same commitment in the loving we offer others.
Make our loving tender and true
that it may bring a new completeness to our lives
and to the lives of those we care for.
Each person should take about a minute to give their name and describe something they’ve enjoyed today.
Archie Hill’s stepson, Barry, was not able from birth to walk, talk, feed or toilet himself. In a talk for the BBC in the 1970s, Archie Hill describes his feelings as he watched his wife’s care for Barry.
I suppose, when she took him home and did not ‘put him away’ as the doctors advised her to – I suppose she hoped they were wrong. He was such a beautiful baby, clean-limbed and perfectly formed. He was a dark-haired baby with brown eyes that laughed out at the world. She doted upon a miniature of perfection which would soon show the development of gross imperfection, the decay in the bud. I don’t think, then, that she thought her son would be imprisoned in a wheelchair all of his life, and she a prisoner with him never able to develop her own creativities. But in her mind she wasn’t tied by fetters of duty but by love. A closed world of love. So rich a world, it is beyond description. I’d never met love like this before – my ideas of love had been so shallow. What privileged few amongst us really do know what love is? We know self-love, pride-love, power-love, comfort-love, dependent-love. We know shallow-love and glitter-love, and love by many other names; we know man-woman love which, as time passes and youth with it, turns into safe and comfortable habit. There are good and rich loves, most of them; but there are different levels of love and the deepest depth of all is this closed world of love between a mother and a useless creature which was the child drawn in pain from her body into a poisoned light of day.
Some possibilities for discussion:
Is there anything in this account that rings bells with you?
Archie suggests his wife was ‘a prisoner with [her son], never able to develop her own creativities’. Do you ever feel like a prisoner?
‘In her mind she wasn’t tied by fetters of duty but by love’. Does our caring sometimes feel more like duty? What difference does that make to how the carer feels about what they’re doing? What difference does it make to how they do it?
Can caring become unhealthily possessive?
The sources of our caring:
Someone reads from Mark 14:3-9
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor’. And they scolded her.
But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
(Either listen to the author reading these himself here or a member of the group reads it out)
There were probably some who thought Barry’s mother was wasting her life. Here was a clever, creative, energetic young woman devoting all her time and energy to a young lad who wasn’t even capable of appreciating it. Some of the diners at the home of Simon of Bethany thought what the woman did to Jesus was wasteful. But Jesus recognised value in what she did – it gave him a sense of being appreciated and she found a way of expressing the love she felt inside her.
This ability human beings have to give of themselves in a way that seems over the top is beautiful and mysterious. Much of the time, when our caring just seems like a desperate struggle, it doesn’t feel as though that’s what we’re doing. Yet just occasionally we discover in ourselves evidence of a deep well of compassion and generosity that we are willing to let others draw upon. Especially when what we are feeling is drained, we want to be able to draw from that well, and to show the same generous and self-giving love as the woman.
We don’t know what it was that prompted the woman to anoint Jesus so publicly. It’s often thought, and is quite likely, that it was out of gratitude to him for some word or act that had brought her emotional or physical healing. But it might have been something much less identifiable – maybe it wasn’t anything Jesus had said or done, just that something in him drew forth something in her. Perhaps she herself didn’t even know why she did it. Sometimes there are things we just know we have to do without being able to articulate the reason.
I imagine that will be true of many of us as we ask ourselves why we care. The natural ties that bind families and neighbours may well feature prominently among our replies. Some will feel their caring is a way of saying thank you, either to the person they are caring for, or to God for the life they’ve been given, or both.
Love is often part of the reason. Sometimes though, it doesn’t feel as though it is. As you were perhaps thinking about a few moments ago, there are likely to be times when our foremost feeling in our caring is duty not love. The danger then is that we might feel that’s not how it should be and feel guilty. Guilt can be brought on by other feelings too – feelings of frustration or impatience, even that inner voice which echoes those external critics who might be saying of us: what a waste. If that happens, it’s important that we don’t punish ourselves. It’s not how we feel that counts but what we do. When Jesus was asked to define love, in this case of a neighbour, he told the story of the Good Samaritan, which says nothing at all about how the Samaritan felt. It was what he did in going the extra mile for the person who’d been mugged that qualified his actions as loving.
Another response we might make to the question ‘Why do I care?’ is that we like how it makes us feel. Sometimes it’s the good opinion of others, who admire our generous self-giving, that makes us feel good; sometimes it’s more internal – we just feel pleased with ourselves. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that motivation. What matters is that the desire for that positive feeling about ourselves doesn’t become more important than meeting the needs of the person we care for. We can find ourselves focusing too much on those aspects of our caring that make us feel good, or tend too much towards the parts of our caring that will be publicly noticed. Then an unhealthy selfishness enters our caring.
There’s a reason some psychologists come up with to explain some kinds of caring. None of us, they say, received the amount of love and attention we craved as babies. As we grew up, the effects of this deficiency were partly minimised in a healthy growth towards maturity. But in most of us, to varying degrees, there remain vestiges of the belief we developed in those early years that this was our fault – we weren’t lovable enough to attract the love we wanted. So in adulthood we continue the attempt started then to make ourselves more lovable. Part of this is a deep-seated and powerful motivation towards anything which will makes us liked. Looking after other people, at least on the face of it, is a sure-fire way of attracting their and other people’s approval. It also makes us feel good because it suggests to us we do deserve to be loved.
Was this why the woman was so extravagant in her affection for Jesus? She wanted his love? Is this part of what drives our caring? A cynical viewpoint, some will say, yet true to some extent of most of us who are carers. Just being aware of the possibility enables us to check occasionally whether our caring is becoming selfish. More likely perhaps, the woman showed her love for Jesus because he had broken through her barrier against believing she was fundamentally lovable. He had made her feel loved. When we come to believe that we are lovable and let ourselves be loved, not for what we do but because of who we are, then our loving for others is more likely to have the generous, overflowing quality hers did.
Some possibilities for discussion:
Why do you think the woman did what she did? What inspires you in your caring?
Archie Hill talked about self-love, pride-love, power-love, comfort-love, dependent-love, shallow-love and glitter-love. Do any of these play a part in what we offer those we care for?
Are there any compensations we experience for any sacrifice we may be making?
The phrase ‘Unconditional Positive Regard’ was first used by the psychologist Carl Rogers and describes the attitude towards others that is most likely to enable them to grow. Many people feel highly critical of themselves and easily pick up criticism in what others say to them. This stunts their development as human beings. To counteract this, it’s helpful to offer committed support and complete acceptance of the person – though not necessarily of their behaviour.
Some possibilities for discussion:
Discuss the challenges of such an approach to your situations, especially where the behaviour of the person being cared for makes such acceptance difficult.
Talk together about the difficulty of distinguishing between accepting someone as a person and accepting their actions.
Within this group how would putting into practice Unconditional Positive Regard affect the way we behave towards each other?
Preparing for the next session
Now is the time for anyone in the group to mention anything going on in their lives that they are finding difficult. When there has been time for everyone who wishes to speak, a silence follows, during which each quietly prays for the members of the group who have just spoken. Anyone who wishes to say a prayer out loud can also do so.
Leader: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they
are new every morning’ (Lamentations 3:22-23).
as we pray for each other, you meet us in our need.
Grant us the resources we need for our caring
and surround us with your love.
‘Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.’ (Psalm 55:22).
Now go round the group in turn and each person mention the name of someone they are caring for. Follow each mention by a long enough silence for that person to be prayed for silently by the group before the next person speaks. Then all pray together:
you promise to sustain all whose lives are hard.
Grant those for whom we care your strength and your peace.
May God bless us all till we meet again.
To take away
An old man was walking along a beach in Mexico after an unusually strong spring storm. The beach was covered with dying starfish tossed up by the waves, and he was tossing them back into the water one by one. A visitor saw this and came up to him. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m trying to help these starfish,’ the old man replied. ‘But there are tens of thousands of them washed up on these beaches. Throwing a handful back won’t make any difference,’ protested the visitor. ‘It’ll make a difference to this one,’ the old man replied as he tossed another starfish into the ocean.
Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Ebury Press, 2000.